Think of any successful team from any walk of life, and you will notice that they all have one thing in common: incredible leadership. Let’s take the example of a rowing team. Their leader, or the coxswain, sits at the stern of the boat to help steer the way and direct the rowers’ rhythm. Without a leader, even the most influential athletes in the world would suffer from a lack of direction, and fail to achieve their fullest potential. A sales operations department is very much the coxswain of a sales team.
In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn what a sales operation is, why it’s crucial to your sales infrastructure’s success, and how you can build your very own sales ops team.
What is a Sales Operation?
A sales operation, or sales op, reduces the sales process’s friction and enables a sales professional to be more efficient and successful. The sales operations department usually handles a wide selection of tasks and responsibilities, which may vary from team to team, but the overall goal is to create and sustain growth.
Sales operations encompass everything from lead management, sales strategy and process optimization, sales training, and data handling.
What is the Difference Between Sales Operations & Sales Enablement?
Sales operations and sales enablement sound very similar, and on the surface, they’re both working to improve productivity and revenue. This begs the question: “do you need both?”
And the answer to this is yes.
Sales operations analyze data, formulate strategies, and make the decisions, while sales enablement, a part of the sales operations process, helps make these decisions a reality.
For instance, sales ops may ascertain that your salespeople aren’t using all the information they’ve collected during the discovery phase of the sales process, to the detriment of the conversion rates. As a result, sales enablement could create a sales training program to help sales representatives make the most of the information they have at hand.
Sales enablement is usually more involved in the buyer journey’s earlier phases, including concentration on training and prospect education. In contrast, sales operations deal with negotiation and closing sales, alongside strategy and sales commission.
To ensure that sales ops and enablement teams aren’t competing with each other, it’s good to draw a clear line between the two. To do this, each department must have separate goals, deliverables, and critical measurement metrics.
Frequent meetings between two teams can ensure no overlap where the teams may be trying to achieve the same goal.
Roles, Responsibilities & Functions of a Sales Operation Representative
The broader purpose of a sales operation unit is to boost productivity, efficiency, and the overall impact that your sales team has on business performance. Your sales ops department needs to fulfill a considerable array of roles, responsibilities, and functions to achieve this.
1) Cross-Functional Collaboration
Sales operations function as an advocate for the sales team. They play a critical role in planning the sales and operations functions to ensure the business goals are entirely aligned (known as cross-functional collaboration), across each arm of the business.
2) Data Management
Sales operations measure and evaluate sales data to conclude how effective a product, sales process, or campaign has been. By undertaking such a crucial role, sales ops teams can understand what has and hasn’t worked. By undertaking such a crucial role, sales ops teams can recognize what has or hasn’t worked and, consequently, make informed decisions about which direction to pursue.
By examining past data and previous trends, sales operations can forecast future sales growth to report on the needs and goals of future campaigns. This is crucial as forecasts give sales teams the chance to pinpoint any issues while still finding a solution or workaround.
4) Sales Team Support
Sales ops are in place to help sales representatives become more efficient and, therefore, better at creating opportunities for conversions. This is done by sending leads, managing the transaction process, creating contracts, and providing training to improve time management skills.
5) Remuneration Management
Sales operations also manage the sales rep’s compensation and remuneration plans. They work to establish goals and performance targets to acknowledge and resolve waning performance.
6) Lead Gen
Sales ops manage administrative tasks, such as lead gen and appointment booking, so that the salespeople can get on with creating more opportunities to sell.
7) Sales Tactics
Sales operations often use their data analysis findings and forecasting to create a tactical sales strategy and set objectives around them. The team is also responsible for structuring a sales procedure that improves conversion, shortens the sales cycle, and maximizes profitability.
The sales ops team is in charge of keeping the sales team accountable by reporting on sales and campaign outcomes and communicating team news and wins.
Sales ops influence the sales department’s structural organization to ensure that each separate part can come together to positively influence the efficiency, impact, and performance of the team.
10) Technology Implementation
The sales ops team oversees the management and use of the necessary technical tools and platforms, often in close consultation with the IT department.
11) Sales Briefs
Sales operations are responsible for deciding and assigning sales briefs to each salesperson. This might mean specific physical territories or certain industry sectors that need to be targeted.
To create the most successful team possible, sales operations take on training new and current sales reps. They may also facilitate different programs that promote strong team camaraderie.
While these roles, responsibilities, and functions are crucial to a sales team’s effective operation, they won’t be possible without the correct staff structure in place.
Staff Structure of a Sales Operation
With such a vast array of intricate, challenging, and crucial roles to perform, finding the right people for the team can spell the difference between a successful operation and a not-so-successful one.
Let’s say that you’re looking to set up and administer a company CRM. For this, you need to look for someone with:
- Technical expertise
- Strong operational skills
- Passion for quality control and productivity
- Love for working in a structured environment
On the other hand, let’s say that you’re struggling to optimize each step of your sales funnel. To address this, you may be looking for someone who is incredibly skilled at recognizing patterns in data and devising unconventional out-of-the-box solutions.
If you want to build a strong sales operations department, you must hire people who satisfy the following capabilities:
- Tactical Support
- Strategy & Design
Sales Operation Process
One of the most significant advantages of having a highly tuned, functional sales operation is the ability to devise, implement, and execute a sales process that informs every aspect of what the sales team is doing daily.
Establishing a sales operation process serves as a template and a reference point for your sales team to refer to when there are complications involved, or when a new challenge suddenly comes to light.
It is important to remember that the demand for sales ops in the early phases of the sales process may differ depending on the structure and makeup of the business.
For instance, sales operations may assist with:
- Administration tasks
- Technical tasks
- Strategic development
- CRM creation and optimization
- Improvements in reporting and accuracy
- Automation implementations in selling/non-selling tasks
- Management of knowledge base and content assets
- Ownership of talent development and compensation
Most established sales operations in mature organizations often take complete ownership of all sales admin and sales functions, while helping to lighten the load in data management, strategy formulation, and other critical decision-making scenarios.
Sales Operations Jobs
Any successful sales operations arrangement requires a few different positions, each of which is just as important as the last.
1) Sales Operations Representative
The sales operations representative is an entry-level position. The ideal candidate must possess at least one to two years’ experience, outstanding attention to detail, technical ability, strong communication skills, and familiarity with some marketing aspects.
2) Sales Operations Analyst
This position requires more experience and expertise, typically at least three years in a sales operations position. The ideal candidate must have a solid understanding of multiple functions, such as product, marketing, and data management, as well as strong problem-solving skills, and the ability to manage large sets of data.
3) Senior Sales Operations Analyst
The senior sales operations analyst position typically needs around four or more years of experience in and around a sales operation’s infrastructure. The ideal candidate should be familiar with CRMs, business intel platforms, and data modeling. Additionally, they must have excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to lead and work with sales executives.
4) Sales Ops Manager
Someone in the sales ops manager position is usually responsible for supervising a team of sales operations professionals. For this reason, it’s that leadership experience and sales operations knowledge is vital to this role. The ideal candidate for the job must have at least five years’ experience, understand sales methods, consumer behavior, and elaborate knowledge of sales processes.
5) Senior Director of Sales Operations
The senior-most person within a sales operations team manages and works with sales ops managers. Most sales operations directors have at least ten years of experience in sales operations, enablement, and other senior positions. The ideal candidate must be proficient with CRMs and sales automation tools, and possess the ability to develop sophisticated financial and operational data models.
Sales Operation Metrics
Preferred metrics vary depending on how an organization operates. For sales ops, these metrics may provide insight into how to improve conversion rates and how the entire sales process may be improved.
The following examples are just a small selection of metrics commonly used to evaluate performance and improve over the long-term:
1) Average Conversion Rate
The ratio of closed deals over the total number of won and lost deals.
2) Average Sale Cycle Length
The average period of time it takes to close a sale.
3) Average Deal Outcome
The average value of the deals that the sales team manages at any one time in the process.
4) Time Selling
The actual time the sales reps spend selling as compared to tasks such as internal meetings, training, or extraneous admin work.
5) Average Lead Response
The time it takes, on average, for a lead to respond positively to a pitch.
6) Pipeline Value
The estimated value of the sales pipeline at any one time in the sales process; this value is used extensively when assessing forecasts.
7) Pipeline Efficiency
Measures how efficiently the sales team is managing their pipelines.
8) Forecast Precision
Forecast precision calculates the rate of error in previous forecasts versus the actual performance results.
Defining Best Practices in Sales Operations
As you develop, increase, and reinforce your sales ops team, you’ll need to build a code of best practices to ensure value over the long term.
1) Define Your Mission Statement
Ensuring that everyone who has a hand in the business’s sales process is on the same page is crucial. Create a mission statement that highlights your goals and share it across the company.
If you’re still a little unsure, you can check out some of the famous brands’ mission statements. Nike’s mission statement, for example, is:
“Do everything possible to expand human potential.”
2) Encourage Collaboration
It’s essential to meet with sales enablement, marketing, and sales teams on a fairly regular basis. This ensures that everyone is taking on the work to see the benefit, address critical issues, and avoid duplication of work.
Arrange weekly meetings between the heads of the marketing, sales operations, sales enablement, and finance teams to ensure that everyone is aligned and pulling in the same direction.
3) Appoint Strong Leadership
It’s absolutely crucial that whoever is leading the sales operations team is fit to do so. This person will be reporting to the CEO, COO or the overall sales director, so it’s essential that the line of communication to the top is clear and unobstructed to ensure effective communication.
Sales operations create ideal selling conditions by leveraging data and insights, technology, strategy, performance, and sustainable development. Once considered an optional team, sales operations departments have become a critical factor in improving team efficiency, conversion, and brand impact. For almost five decades, sales ops have proved to be vital to the over-sales picture’s success.
Written by Ben Harper: a sales specialist and founder of lead generation company meethugo.com